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Some Bigger, None Better: Positives in a Pandemic | Steve & Kris (Pankratz) Newman

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Written by Shannon Siebert

How has the community of Henderson, Nebraska, with a population hovering close to 1,000 reaped rewards from the COVID-19 Pandemic? This is the first in a series about how the pandemic has positively affected Henderson due to the acceptance of working from home and lifestyle changes.

One of the many adaptations made during the past two years has been the work from home phenomenon. For Henderson, it has meant several families and individuals have relocated here because they can work anywhere with a good internet connection. 

Their return positively affects the real estate market, school enrollment, and Main Street businesses. Many of those who have moved to the Henderson area volunteer in various social organizations, become involved in a local church and sometimes are able to fill area job openings. 

The folks who have moved here definitely boost the human capital level which is tremendous for a small community. 

Nobody could ever have imagined how our world would change so dramatically the past two years due to the outbreak of COVID-19—but it hasn’t been all bad for Henderson. Despite all of the pandemic’s horribleness, it has helped Henderson grow. 

Kris Pankratz Newman is a 1992 Henderson graduate who has been living with her family in Austin, Texas, for the past 17 years. She and her husband Steve and two daughters, Saylor and Kambel, moved back to Henderson in 2021. This is actually the second time they have lived in Henderson in their marriage, but it was only for a year. After a few job changes and moves, they settled in Leander, a suburb of Austin, where Steve was born and raised. 

“I’d always imagined we might move back to Henderson after our girls were out of school,” said Kris, but the pandemic and other circumstances changed their life plans. Last year, Kris and her oldest daughter Saylor came back for a summer visit with her family—her parents, Joe and Em Pankratz, and two sisters, Kelli Peters and Kerri Pankratz, all live in Henderson.

When it came time to leave, Saylor, who had just graduated from high school, surprised her mom by opting to remain in Henderson for a while.

“The next thing I knew after I returned home was Saylor got a job, and she was obviously staying!” said Kris. 

Meanwhile, back in Texas, the pandemic was beginning to change the landscape in Austin. Steve, who owns his own business, Authentic Reclaimed Wood Works (www.authenticrww.com), designs and builds furniture out of reclaimed wood. 

“During the pandemic, I was seeing a steep decline in my ability to sell to local boutiques and other outlets,” said Steve. In addition, they were experiencing skyrocketing cost-of-living prices, overpopulation due to the influx of Californians and difficulty just buying groceries and household supplies. 

After another visit to Henderson in the fall, Kris, by chance, drove down Elm Street and noticed a house for sale that caught her eye. She talked to her parents about it, and after contacting the realtor for just a look-see, she still never imagined they might buy the house and actually move back to Henderson. 

Sometimes things just happen and all the pieces fall into place. That exactly describes the Newman’s move to Henderson. 

She and Steve decided it was time for a change so they went ahead and purchased the Martha Hiebner home. Steve and Saylor started the process of moving after Christmas and began renovating the house. Kris and Kambel stayed in Texas until May so she could finish her junior year of high school. 

Kris works for Pearson Education as a publishing workflow project manager and had already been working from home since before the pandemic so it wasn’t an issue to move out of state. 

“After we bought the house, I did realize I hadn’t even told my supervisor I’d be moving. It wasn’t a problem since I’d been working remotely for years and they are an extremely flexible company to work for,” said Kris. 

Interestingly, due to some computer reconfigurations, her company’s IT department checked out the Internet capability of the Henderson area and were very impressed with the Internet strength. We can thank our local Mainstay Communications for their foresight in keeping our technology upgraded.

One of the negatives about making the move was that Kambel would not be able to finish her senior year in Texas. At first, she was resistant to moving because she’d be leaving behind her friends, but she decided to make the best of it and jumped in with both feet, according to Kris. 

In her larger school in Texas of 5,000 students, it was hard to participate in extracurricular activities. While at Heartland, she has participated in two theater productions, golf, choir and most surprisingly became involved in FFA! None of that would have been possible at her former high school. 

As Steve got deeper into their house remodeling, one thing led to another, and it has morphed into what they’ve dubbed on Instagram— themarthaprojectne. Their byline is “Leaving the Lone Star State for a new chapter in the Heartland. Just a regular couple updating our new old house.” 

“We ended up taking on a lot more of a remodel than we first thought,” said Steve. With his business on hold, he can work full-time on their renovations and has Kris’ dad to help and provide shop space for the work. Eventually, he plans on restarting his furniture business here in Henderson but will still market his products in the Texas area as well. 

Kris has especially enjoyed the time she can spend with her family and attend many of the birthday and graduation parties she used to miss. She looks forward to having more time for her arts & craft projects, antiquing with her sister and maybe learning to quilt. 

What we are seeing is probably only the beginnings of a reshaped work world that will continue to positively affect even small towns like Henderson. 

Stay tuned for the next article in our series about another family who have relocated here in the Heartland due to the ability to work virtually.

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